so immovable a dislike (B:tVS/Leverage/A:tS)
: so immovable a dislikeAuthor
: Jedi ButtercupRating
: PG-ish; genDisclaimer
: The words are mine; the worlds are not.Summary
: Between Angel and Eliot, and whoever Lindsey McDonald was, Buffy wasn't sure any of them were ready for past and present to collide.
: Post-series for B:tVS and Angel; indeterminate post-S1 timeline for LeverageNotes
: Set much later in the same verse as symptoms of peculiar regard
. For Syd, for Day 19 in Wishlist 2012, for the prompt: "Buffy is wondering how her boyfriend is all of a sudden working for Angel and goes to investigate and finds out her boyfriend failed to mention he had a twin wandering around." Not exact, due to timeline issues; but pretty close!
Buffy probably should have stopped being surprised by Angel's stalker tendencies years ago, but somehow it still took her off guard every time she looked up and saw him somewhere he wasn't supposed to be. Especially since they'd both taken a wrecking ball to their destinies, dropping Sunnydale into a pit and taking out the hands-- and home base-- of the Wolf, Ram and Hart in Los Angeles. They weren't just a two-hour drive apart anymore; dropping by took a little more in the way of planning and intention. And notice, usually. Cell phones: not just decorative accessories.
Maybe having the most awkward timing ever was just one of his superpowers. Buffy's smile froze on her face as she opened the front door of her house, intent on heading out for dinner with her current
boyfriend, and spotted her ex pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of a shiny convertible. Why was this her luck? Not that she didn't still feel that mutinous little spark of joy every time she saw him, but they were so over
that phase of their lives. If he pulled another vision or scrubbing-bubbles necklace out of his ass, she wasn't going to be answerable for her reaction.
"Angel?" she said, incredulously. "What are you doing here? In front of my house?"
Her first love, and the man who'd dominated her romantic landscape for years even after he'd left her supposedly for her own good, stopped pacing to turn to her with a worried half-smile of greeting. "Buffy, hey! I was just about to come up and ring the doorbell."
"I can see that," she said dryly, slipping one hand into her purse to wrap her fingers around a stake as she descended the stairs from the porch to the driveway. Just as a precaution-- in case he was being followed by immediate danger, or happened to be
that danger himself. He had a girlfriend again, he'd mentioned once; a werewolf named Nina he'd met during his year with Evil, Inc. What if she'd made him happy enough to slip his soul? He'd sworn that wasn't possible anymore, but he'd said that before, too. "Not that I'm not glad to see you-- but you could have called. What's with the secrecy?"
Angel took a deep, unnecessary breath. "Well, it's... you remember how I said I wrapped things up with the Senior Partners?" he asked awkwardly, scratching at the back of his head.
Okay, no; that was definitely not Angelus. He'd always been much smoother-- and a much snappier dresser-- in soulless mode, and if he was still hemming and hawing an apocalypse probably wasn't imminent. Buffy took her hand out of her purse again and frowned.
"Not so much," she replied. "As in, not so much with the wrapping up; you took out their army and wrecked their building, but they never called in your contract. You said they probably thought they could still use it to get to you, somehow."
"The how's still a little fuzzy, but yeah, that's about the size of it," he agreed. "Can we maybe go inside to discuss it? I'd rather not get into the details out in the open."
Buffy raised an eyebrow. Well, if he was worried about being overheard, that might explain why he'd just showed up instead of calling. Or else he thought she'd hang up on him if he wasn't there to tell the story in person; it could go either way. And neither thought was encouraging. "I'm kind of on my way somewhere, actually. Can't you give me the capsule-y version?"
Eliot would be following her out in a minute, and she wasn't sure any of them were ready for that particular collision of past and present. Her boyfriend knew enough of her history to have a hate-on for Angel sight unseen, no matter how often she explained that she'd had her own share of fault in how things went down, and if anyone fully human could give a Master vampire a run for his money in a fight, it was Eliot Spencer.
That was how they'd met, after all: Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's father, angry about his son's death and about what he saw as a "hostile takeover" of the Watcher's Council after the First blew its senior leadership to smithereens, had spilled a sob story to Nathan Ford and his crew of Robin Hoods. Eliot, investigating the girl's school that doubled as Slayer HQ, had been entirely unprepared to face Buffy and Faith... and had still
been able to fight them off long enough to get away. Or at least would
have, if his escape route hadn't led right down a hall filled with a dozen other Slayers.
He'd been under some kind of misapprehension at first that she and Giles were an item, and had flirted mostly with Faith while both teams negotiated their way into joining forces to take old Wyndam-Pryce and his supporters down. Fortunately, Faith had still been with Wood at the time, and Buffy had been intrigued enough to invite Eliot to spar with her whenever their jobs brought them to the same city. The rest, as Andrew said, was history. They'd been might-as-well-call-it dating for several months now.
Angel's expression downgraded from 'vaguely unhappy' to 'constipated' as he processed her answer. "You might want to cancel those plans. Because the short version? Is that I need you in L.A. as soon as possible."
"Excuse me?" Buffy was taken aback. "How about the slightly less short version? Because there's already a competent Slayer team in the city. It's not going to hurt my feelings if you work with other Slayers, you know, and they know you're not evil. Now. You can
ask them for help." They'd all learned a few lessons from his high-handed martyr act, even if she hadn't entirely forgiven him for it yet.
Angel winced. "If it was anyone but Wolfram and Hart... the only Slayer they're going to respect is one of the last two Chosen, and Faith's problematic for other reasons. See, technically, I'm still a member of the Circle of the Black Thorn, since I'm the only survivor; which means I'm still in charge of the L.A. branch of Wolfram and Hart, even though I'm also the one who wrecked it. Which means I still have to put up with a liaison... and their liaison has asked for a joint meeting. Two days from now."
"...and the particular liaison they're sending happens to know Faith?" she filled in the blanks.
"You could say that."
"...and what, I'm supposed to just agree? Angel, I wouldn't even talk to you
while you worked there, why would I talk to some evil messenger boy?"
He winced. "I know, it's just... apparently the firm had a contract with the Watcher's Council? I don't have the specifics, but I thought you'd want to do your own negotiating."
Buffy's eyes narrowed; the picture was beginning to come clear, and it was an unpleasant one. "And they didn't contact me last year through their Rome branch because...? Oh wait, you spent a lot of time that year telling your liaisons where to get off, and this way they get to jerk me around and make you eat your words at the same time." The Council had recently done some consulting with one of Angel's old associates, Charles Gunn, on demon-related legal matters, and he'd told some hair-raising stories.
Angel looked nettled as he opened his mouth to reply-- but whatever he intended to say next got swallowed up by an incoherent sputter as the front door opened behind her. "I never said he should get off with you
!" he blurted instead. "I'm going to kill him for this! Again!"
Angel was near spitting with rage. "How'd he get here before me? And how the hell did he convince you to go anywhere
with him? Lindsey McDonald is a liar, and a coward, and he's been obsessed with taking me down for years
, so you can't believe a thing he says."
"And what does that have to do with the price of movie tickets?" Eliot was the only other person at her house that evening, and there was no universe in which it made sense for Leverage, Inc. to be running a con on W&H. Eliot had mentioned they'd worked in L.A. before, and Ford had put the firm on their list of 'jobs too big for us' then. "Am I supposed to recognize that name?"
"You should, because he's standing right behind you," Angel replied acidly, pointing past her.
Eliot stepped up to her side, muscular arms crossed over his chest as he gave the vampire a very unimpressed look. "I don't believe we've been introduced," he said, in a low growl of a voice. "I'm Eliot Spencer. I don't know who this Lindsey McDonald is either, but even if I did, you've got no right to talk to Buffy that way."
He was shorter than Angel-- well, a lot of guys were-- and wearing a fairly similar outfit of dark slacks and a solid-hued dress shirt with the top button undone, but seeing them face to face, Eliot came off as anything but a second choice. Angel was her past, and gorgeous in his own way, but Eliot blazed with life, from his ridiculous mane of Herbal Essences-commercial hair and intent blue eyes to the roadmap of scars and arsenal's worth of weapons tucked away under his clothes. It was part of the game, de-arming each other after dessert: a mix of laughter and lethality that belonged to a relationship of equals, not the fairy-tale quality of her drama with Angel.
Well... when he remembered to check his protective instincts, anyway. "That's sweet, Eliot," she said brightly, slipping a hand through the crook of his arm, "but I can defend my own honor. But if you feel the need to defend your
honor... mind if I take a minute to pop some popcorn, first?"
Angel's eyes darted from her face, to Eliot's, then down to their linked arms, and his expression went cold. "This is low, even for you, Lindsey," he said, focusing on Eliot again. "Stealing my seconds, again? Whatever you thought this move would get you, it won't. You can forget about whatever it was you wanted to discuss. You thought I picked a nasty fight last time? If you hurt her, I will end
you, no matter what it takes. And Buffy?" He finally met her gaze again. "I know I probably sound crazy right now, but this man is using you. If you ever
trusted me, don't go anywhere
alone with him until I can prove it to you."
"Are you blind, Angel? Splattered with some kind of hallucinatory demon blood, maybe? Because I've known Eliot for several months. Whoever this Lindsey is, it isn't him. And if you made all that crap up just to come by and go all Dawson on me again
about my boyfriend...." Buffy glared at him. "I'm not your 'seconds' of anything
Angel clenched and unclenched his fists, glaring at Eliot again, then stormed back to his car with the air of someone leaving before he succumbed to the urge for violence.
the ex, huh," Eliot drawled as the convertible started up and roared away.
"Don't even," Buffy sighed. "That was weird, even for him. I wonder who this Lindsey guy is? He's really got Angel wound up."
Eliot frowned, then tugged his smartphone out of his pocket and hit an autodial button. "Hardison? Yeah, yeah; I know. This shouldn't take long. Can you look up a guy named Lindsey McDonald? Works for, or used to work for, Wolfram and Hart in Los Angeles? ...Yeah, I know
, this is personal not business. ...That quick? ...What
? No, you know
I never ...C'mon, man, just text me the pic. I'll let you know. ...No, I'll tell Nate myself, when I figure this out. ...Tell Parker 'hi' for me. Later."
He pulled the phone away from his ear and wrinkled his brow as he turned back to Buffy. "First thing Hardison found was his obituary; guy apparently got shot the same night all that shit went down in L.A. And funny thing?" His phone chimed, and he slid his thumb across the screen before tilting it to show the image Hardison had unearthed.
They both stared in at the headshot of a man who could've been Eliot's double, apart from slightly shorter hair and a scar missing from his upper lip. "But that's...." Buffy blinked at him.
me," Eliot growled again, emphatically.
"Then your twin
was working for Angel. Hey, wait." One of the conversational asides Angel had dropped caught up to her. "Angel said he was going to kill the guy again
An evil undead
twin, if he was now the Senior Partners' liaison. Buffy was deeply perplexed. Why would her boyfriend's zombie double want to talk to a Slayer? Was it because of Eliot? Was there something about his background Eliot had failed to mention? Or-- he'd done something military-ish in his background he didn't talk about; had he run across another Walsh-type? None of the pieces fit.
Eliot's scowl deepened. "I think we got a lot more research to do," he said. "And then maybe I oughta talk to Nate about taking Wolfram and Hart off the no-go list."
Buffy turned to him, sliding her hands up the front of his dress shirt. "Are you sure? This is a demon-y thing, and it sounds like I'll have to get my girls on it anyway. We could just keep you posted?"
"That's sweet," he drawled back, settling his hands above her waist, "but shouldn't you be popping popcorn right about now? Your ex apparently killed someone with my face
, and now he wants y'all to meet with the guy. Fine, so meet with the guy, with or without Angel. But I'm gonna be there when you do. And for that, I want my team prepped. Something smells really off about this, and I don't just mean the demon-y
A reluctant smile tugged at the corner of Buffy's mouth. "I suppose you're about to tell me it's a very distinctive smell?" she teased.
"Very," Eliot agreed, then bent down the few inches between their heights to kiss her.
So maybe it was kind of a macho staking-of-the-claim thing. But Buffy found it hard to care; she melted into the touch, then took his arm again as he stepped back and gestured to his truck.
"It'll hold 'til after dinner, though. Milady, your chariot awaits."
Two days later, with background bickering buzzing in her ear from the comm-bud Eliot had borrowed for her, Buffy sat down in the office of the Hyperion hotel across the desk from a crisply dressed copy of her boyfriend. Angel hadn't shown up yet, but that girl Willow had told her about, Fred, had let them all in... which made three of them in the hotel that had been reported dead, and were still walking around. A regular undead convention. But now wasn't the time to ask questions about that.
Lindsey McDonald had cut his hair again since the picture she'd seen, and he'd taken the earrings out, but apart from that he still looked remarkably like Eliot. It was very creepy McCreepenstein; she kept expecting him to laugh and call Ford in to reveal the con.
"So tell me what Wolfram and Hart wants from me, Mr. McDonald," she said, all her spidey senses jangling at her. It wasn't just that he didn't seem to have a heartbeat, either; Eliot was right, something was really off about the situation. He wasn't just smug; he was expectant
, and that worried her.
"Not so much you, as The Slayer," he said, opening his briefcase to take out a sheaf of papers. "Didn't you ever wonder where the original shamans who enchanted the first of you got the ritual from?"
The hair stood up on the back of Buffy's neck. She'd been there, in that place between times accessed through the Slayer's Emergency Kit; they'd tried to put an extra piece of demon spirit into her
, but she hadn't thought to ask that question. No one had; it was just a fact of Slayer history.The men took the girl to fight the demon-- all demons. They chained her to the Earth.
She lifted her chin. "You're not seriously trying to tell me your masters gave it to them, are you? Why would they just hand a weapon to the other side?"
He snorted, flipping through the papers until he found one with a splattery looking X on the signature line, sketched in a blackened, flaky ink. Blood. "Ah, here." He scanned down the text on the page with a finger, replying to her question in an absent tone.
"It depends on how you define the sides, really; Wolfram and Hart is out to create hell on Earth, sure, but they want it their way. On their terms. And they have a lot of seers on their payroll. The Slayers have always been kind of a loose cannon, but while they might be a minor inconvenience on a day-to-day basis... they have a way of taking out the major competition for
the Senior Partners. And the firm barely has to lift a finger. Small investment, large return; that kind of thing's right up their alley."
Buffy stilled. The necklace, that damn necklace that had turned Spike into a ghost; she'd wondered how Angel had gotten away with it. What had he bargained for it, if they'd already intended to have someone use it to take out the First? Or had they been hoping she and Faith would fail, so they could pass it off to whichever Potential stepped up, hoping to have more control over the next Slayer?
...Though, was it just her imagination, or was Lindsey McDonald talking about the firm in the third person plural, rather than first person plural? She did
remember a few
things from her high school English classes.
She cleared her throat. "You do
know I turned down the shaman-y guys when I had a chance to talk to them myself, right? And the old Council's all gone. The active Watchers died when Caleb blew up their building, and we don't have legal access to their assets. So whatever they signed? Is not on us."
"Really? Good on you, Slayer," he said, looking back up at her at last. "Actually, the contract's still active as long as the last curse-called Slayer is active; though you're right about the rest of it. Just make sure no-one's dumb enough to repeat the old oath when you do
claim their assets. That's not why I
wanted you here, though." He smirked, then crumpled up the rest of the stack of pages and tossed them over his shoulder.Now
they were getting to the point. Buffy squared her shoulders. "I thought so," she said. "Eliot, I think this is your cue."
The door of the office opened, and her boyfriend walked in, dressed in urban cowboy ass-kicking gear. Seeing both men in the same room did strange and inconvenient things to Buffy's hormones; but it also clarified matters a little, dispersing the earlier creepy vibes. Up close and personal, the resemblance was a little less exact; twins still maybe, but not Xerox-copy clones.
"So tell us what your real
question is, then," Eliot growled, staring at the other man. "I'm listening."
That was where their planned confrontation fell apart, though; the smirk slid right off Lindsey's face, and he stood up, backing away from the desk. "What the hell is this?"
Buffy exchanged a blank look with Eliot. If that
wasn't their play, then what was? Hardison's research had proven both men were from Oklahoma, but they had different birthdates and their childhoods were only superficially similar. If one of them hadn't been deliberately cosmetically altered to match the other, then what the hell was going on? She didn't believe in coincidences.
"Backup?" she quipped. "Lindsey McDonald, meet Eliot Spencer. My boyfriend. Eliot, meet Lindsey McDonald, former lawyer and current liaison for Wolfram and Hart."
?" Lindsey replied, staring; then comprehension lit in his eyes. "So you're
the good cousin gone bad I got mistaken for the last time I went home."
"I don't have any cousins," Eliot denied, glowering at him.
"Hey, not my fault your dad never talked about his sister," Lindsey replied, looking him over from boots to the bandana currently tied over his hair in fascination. "Damn. I thought your
sister was on something, when she accosted me. But I guess there is a resemblance."
"You talked to my sister?" Eliot's growl ratcheted up a notch.
Buffy winced and put a hand on his arm. Well, that was more anti than climactic; but there was still another big question to go. "Not the point, Eliot. The point is, what are
we all doing here, if it isn't because of some dusty old Slayer contract, or some kind of demon clone thing?"
Lindsey shook himself and refocused on Buffy. "We're all here because of my
contract. Actually, Angel's supposed to be here, too. The asshole owes me. I fought on his side in that last battle; I thought he'd actually accepted me on his team. And then he had his man shoot
me because I didn't have a place
in his future. All I wanted to do was stick it to the Senior Partners-- okay, and him, too; but I would've been willing to renegotiate that afterwards-- and instead I'm here
. But he's still CEO, so he can do something about that."
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him as she remembered Angel's accusation: he's been obsessed with taking me down for years, so you can't believe anything he says.
But she couldn't see what his contract had to do with harming Angel. And there was something else:
"And knowing this, the Senior Partners would have sent you to be his liaison why
"Incoming, y'all... looks like that Angel guy?" Hardison interrupted over the earbuds.
"Let him through, this oughta be good," Eliot murmured in reply
Lindsey noticed none of that aside; he was still staring at Buffy. "Turns out, their little hell dimensions? Can only punish you to the extent you think you deserve. I damn well know
I didn't deserve it this time. But they
think I'm all productive and coherent again because I've accepted I did wrong, and am therefore obedient again. So everybody's happy. Or would
be, if Angel was here
. All he's got to do is countersign this," he lifted the paper with the bloody signature off the desk again and waved it at them, "and I'm just dead
, not undead and subject to the Senior Partners' employee retention program. I'll take my chances with the afterlife."
That, of course, was when Angel stormed into the office with a crossbow held at the ready, notched with some kind of a syringe-arrow containing a vilely green liquid. He was already firing it by the time he noticed Eliot standing at Buffy's side; the crossbow jerked to the side as he did a comic double-take, but the syringe had already found its target in Lindsey's shoulder.
"Angel, what did you do
?" Buffy hurried around the desk, wariness forgotten as Lindsey collapsed.
"Well at least you did it yourself this time..." he said, then groaned, convulsing on the floor.
"It's not like that," Angel said defensively as Eliot knocked the crossbow out of his hands. "He's not dying; kind of the opposite. I've been researching this off and on since Lilah was the liaison; a little Mohra blood, a little disenchanting fluid, it'll just make him human again. No demon powers, and it'll cut him off from the Senior Partners, at least until the next time he gets killed. They'll have to send someone else to negotiate, if that part wasn't just meant to be a distraction."
He trailed off, frowning, as he glanced between Eliot and Lindsey again.
Eliot snorted. "So let me see if I've got this straight. You just pissed off a multidimensional law firm by poisoning
one of their undead employees-- that you'd killed in the first
place-- to steal him away from them. All because you thought he was putting the moves on your ex-girlfriend? Sounds a little counterproductive to me."
"I wasn't trying to steal
him," Angel replied. "I want no part of him."
"Not... what I recall... you sayin' to me... before," Lindsey wheezed. He'd stopped convulsing and torn his shirt open; the wound had healed to a faint pucker already, but the old bullet scars on his chest had flushed a vivid pink, as if they were fresh. He really was
alive again, and whole.
Buffy gave Eliot a questioning look.
"And what do you mean, counterproductive?" Angel complained, ignoring Lindsey.
Eliot nodded to Buffy, then extended a hand to his double, ignoring Angel right back.
"Want a lift out of here?" he said, leaving everything else unspoken: so you can tell us about this Slayer contract
; and talk some more about family
; and prove to us you aren't evil
. Buffy had known him long enough to read all that in his challenging smirk, and more besides.
"Why the hell not?" Lindsey snorted, and took the offered hand. "Not like I have any better plans."
"You can't just take his side
," Angel objected, indignantly.
An old refrain returned to Buffy: what are you, twelve
? She sighed, and helped her boyfriend help Lindsey up.
Too bad there wasn't
an apocalypse to settle things out again. Their lives could only get more interesting from here.